Storytelling in UX with Andrew Linderman

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Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” –Robert McKee

Andrew Linderman giving presentation

Storytelling in UX

Many studies over the years suggest that our brains become more engaged by storytelling than hard, cold facts. Storytelling can benefit our everyday lives: from effective teaching to finding a job, from building a startup to designing a website, from managing a team to improving memory. Storytelling can benefit everyone – software developers, graphic designers, teachers, data scientists, project leads, copywriters, journalists, sales people, and marketers.

Storytelling in UX Workshop

Every day in the field of UX, we strive to articulate and share our work with members of our team. In February, we hosted a Storytelling workshop with Andrew Linderman to help UX teams learn to present ideas better, connect with clients and members of their team faster and have more fun at work simply by telling amazing stories. Andrew is a writer, storyteller and story coach based in Brooklyn, NY. He teaches storytelling at Media Bistro, General Assembly, the Brooklyn Brainery and New York University, and is a volunteer story coach with the community education program at The Moth, a MacArthur award-winning non-profit dedicated to the craft of storytelling.  Andrew is also the executive producer of Local Stories, a monthly storytelling series featuring New York’s best writers, performers and comedians. Prior to his work in storytelling, Andrew trained as an actor and improviser at the Upright Citizens Brigade and the Atlantic Theater Company in New York City.

Workshop about Storytelling at Hatch. Image shows 20 attendees viewing slides from Andrew Linderman.
Workshop kicks off Hatch

One of our members-at-large, Erin Walsh, shares a summary of the event.

I have always loved stories. I love listening to and sharing stories personally and professionally. I use storytelling to derive requirements, allow customers to explain their product, help users tell me about their experiences, and to improve website content. Between us, I thought I was a pretty good storyteller. Then I attended Andrew Linderman’s Storytelling in UX workshop and realized I was missing core tenants that would make my storytelling more effective.

Andrew opened the session with a video excerpt of Neil Pasricha’s TED talk on The Three A’s of Awesome. In his TED talk, he tells the story of how his award winning blog came to be. After the clip, we were asked what stood out to us in the story. We rattled off all the attributes that made it a good story to us: personal, suspenseful, funny, detailed, relatable, visual, and the list went on. For the next three hours, Andrew returned to these elements to remind us to bring them into our own stories.

By telling his own stories and moderating an exercise where we shared one of our own stories with a partner, Andrew taught us how to improve our storytelling. In the beginning of a story, it is important to set up your character, setting, and problem. Conflict and tension arise in the middle. Will the character be able to resolve the problem in the setting? What does the character have to gain or lose? In the end of the story, we have the climax, where the crisis is resolved and we learn the consequences of the outcome. While this sounds elementary, Andrew introduced a key element that raised the difficulty level: just tell what happens. Strip away judgment, analysis, and explanation. As the exercises progressed, we learned to slowly refine our characters, problems, plot, and resolution to simply relay the events while keeping them specific, honest, and personal.

The workshop concluded with a pitch exercise. We had two minutes to sell an idea to our partner, who played the role of our manager, boss or other team member. In previous exercises that day, I found myself going over time. In the final pitches, it was difficult to fill my allotted time. Andrew then helped us reposition our pitch using the techniques we covered in the session. In the final pitch, we infused our idea with a story demonstrating a personal core value – such as loyalty, empathy, dedication. Through the use of the story, I was able to refine my pitch without use of explanation or judgment, while being specific, honest, and personal.

Since the workshop, I have continued to use storytelling personally and professionally. I now take care to simply say what happened, while being specific, honest, and personal. I continually catch myself mid-story about to inject judgment or analysis, but regroup and proceed following Andrew’s direction.

Key take-aways from the workshop:

Don’t give them 4. Give them 2 + 2. – Andrew Stanton

Be specific. The more detail you provide, the more your audience will believe and connect with your story.

Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. – Brené Brown

Make it personal and honest. Be open, be vulnerable. Do you or your listeners have a stake in the outcome of the story?

Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom. – Thomas Jefferson

Be honest. Otherwise, you risk losing credibility or you might get tripped up later.

Eliminate comparatives and superlatives. – Andrew Linderman

Above all, just tell what happened. Don’t analyze and explain. Describe events. Remove judgments about people involved.

Learn more

To learn more about Andrew Linderman and how to incorporate storytelling into your own life and business:

The Story Source – Andrew Linderman’s blog

Storytelling Your Way to a Better Job or a Stronger Start-Up – The New York Times

Storytelling to Problem Solve – UX Booth

Simple Science of Good Storytelling – Fast Company

Why Our Brains Crave Storytelling in Marketing – Fast Company

Clues to a Great Story (TED talk) – Andrew Stanton (WALL-E, Toy Story)

The Three A’s of Awesome (TED talk)- Neil Pasricha


Post by Erin Walsh and Alex Proaps. Event photo via Alex Proaps.

Special thanks to Hatch for hosting us, to O’Reilly for sponsoring our book raffle, and to Grow for their 2015 sponsorship.


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